When planning a Grand Canyon vacation, sometimes it's difficult to decide which area of the Grand Canyon to visit. It is, after all, a huge park! But if you read a bit on what the options are for the North Rim versus the South Rim, you can make a decision that's right for the vacation you want.
This massive chasm, carved by the Colorado River, holds incredible views and numerous scenic attractions and fun activities. If you have a week to spend, you can feasibly cover both the North and South Rims with not too much of a problem. But if you have less time, you'll need to decide between them. Although the South Rim is my favorite, due to the services available, the activities and the happy, busy people, the North Rim sports the best views and gives easy access to other scenic attractions like Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.
What Highlights and Activities Are You Looking for on Your Vacation?
The South Rim is the most famous part of the Grand Canyon, and the busiest. There are a number of sights to see, as well as the incredible scenic panoramas stretching out before you. When you drive in, you can pick up the park newspaper at the entry gate, and this will hold information you need regarding popular activities and any unexpected closures. I found this invaluable.
Learning some history of this area is always a thrilling side note to your vacation fun so you should stop at the visitor center. At the Hopi House you will see the design of structures in an old Hopi village and view displays of Native American arts and crafts.
Be sure to visit the historic district of the beautiful Grand Canyon Village and get a look-see at the old Grand Canyon Depot. Take a short hike along Rim Trail to Yavapai Observation Station. From this point you will see some spectacular vistas of the canyon, and perhaps get to watch the sun set, spreading colors like you've never seen, even in magazine photos.
You will love to take the drives along East Rim and West Rim Drives for incredible views of this most famous canyon. Or you can take one of the fabled mule trips down into the canyon itself. If you are planning on this, you must book about a year ahead for the South Rim mule rides, as they are in high demand.
Many ranger-led programs are available to you, as well. You can hike while learning fascinating information about the Grand Canyon and its history.
If you love solitude and getting away from the bustling crowds, then the North Rim is for you. It's over 8000 feet above sea level (1,000 feet higher than the South Rim) and provides the best views of the Grand Canyon. The cooler temperatures are nice, too, in the summer.
Point Imperial is a must-see. This is the highest point on this side of the canyon, and looks out over the Painted Desert. See the layers of colors, black and red, within the rocks. Cape Royal, accessible by the same scenic drive that gets you to Point Imperial, gives you unlimited views both east and west. You'll find other outlooks just as incredible all around the North Rim area.
There are a number of hiking and backpacking trails also for your pleasure on the North Rim. Or you can take a mule trip! They only provide half-day or full day trips and don't go all the way to the river in the bottom, but are exciting just the same.
You'll discover the past of this great park if you take part in some of the programs available. At the visitors' center, you can join in a nature walk through aspen and pine forests. Hear the ranger talks on ecology and science and the Grand Canyon story. Every evening it is something different.
Are You Looking for Lodging or Camping in the Grand Canyon?
Lodging and camping are in good supply on the South Rim, but you'll find the North Rim more primitive.
On the South Rim, there are a number of lodges on the rim and in the woods, and several of the hotels also have restaurants. For camping, you have Mather Campground and others in and near the park.
The historic Grand Canyon Lodge is a quaint place to stay on the North Rim, and there is another beautiful lodge some miles away. There's also a campground with showers and laundry on site. Other accommodations are at some distance from the North Rim, such as in Jacob Lake, 44 miles away. If you are looking for budget accommodations, you can go to Fredonia, Arizona, quite some distance further on.
What Services are Available for Your Convenience?
There are gift shops, restaurants, bookstores and many other services on the South Rim. You'll find anything you need, and will find your main shopping in Grand Canyon Village.
You will find services are limited on the North Rim. You still will have a restaurant, gift shop and visitors' center, along with a deli. You will have to come prepared, as you won't be able to find those last minute things you want to run out and buy.
Your Best Choice of North or South Rim
In my opinion, if you have a short time to see the Grand Canyon and want to take in as much as possible, your pick should be the South Rim. If traveling with kids, again choose the South Rim, as there are a number of sights and activities for them to take part in during your stay. However, if you simply want comfortable solitude and beautiful views, you'll find the North Rim is ideal for such an adventure.
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